Radiotherapy or chemotherapy can make your mouth dry or sore. If it becomes difficult to eat, you may find it helpful to:
- take plenty of fluids – we suggest at least 10-12 glasses/mugs a day
- keep your mouth fresh and clean – ask the nursing staff for advice about mouth care eat easier to chew foods
- add gravies, sauces, butter or mayonnaise to food to make it more moist
- drink through a straw
- include nourishing drinks
If your mouth is dry
- sip drinks frequently, especially with meals
- suck ice cubes or lollies – try making them with lemonade for a change
- fizzy drinks can make your mouth feel fresher
- suck strongly flavoured pastilles or mints or chew sugar-free chewing gum to keep your mouth moist
- sharp flavours such as lemon or lime may help your mouth produce more saliva, but don’t use them if your mouth is sore
- avoid dry foods such as bread, potatoes, crackers, cold meats, hard boiled eggs and chocolate
- pineapple slices can be refreshing
- artificial saliva or pastilles are available – ask your doctor or nurse about this
If your mouth is sore
Avoid the following as these may hurt or irritate:
- salty or spicy foods
- acid fruits and juices such as oranges, grapefruit, lemon, lime, tomato and also vinegar
- chewy, coarse or dry foods such as tough meat, crisps, toast, hard cereals and dry biscuits
- food that is very hot or very cold
- foods that stick to your mouth such as chocolate, nut butter or pastry
One of the side-effects of your illness or treatment is that your sense of taste may be affected so that food either loses its flavour or just tastes different. This situation can last for several months making it difficult to find things to eat and drink that you enjoy.
Don’t forget that your body still needs many nutrients to help it recover from treatment and minimise weight loss.
- Keep your mouth fresh and clean with good mouth care and by drinking plenty of fluids. Ask nursing staff for advice about this, especially if your mouth feels coated.
- If tea or coffee taste unpleasant, consider replacing these with fruit squash or hot Bovril, Oxo or Marmite.
- Sharp-flavoured or fizzy drinks and fruits may stimulate your taste buds.
- Use herbs, spices, tomato sauce, brown sauce, chutney etc. to add flavour, though be careful not to use too many spices if your mouth is sore.
- Try sucking mints or fruit sweets or chewing on sugar-free gum.
- If food tastes bland, try putting different temperature foods together, such as fruit crumble and ice cream, or different textured foods together such as cottage pie and crunchy vegetables, or yogurt and crushed nuts.
- You may find you enjoy savoury foods more than sweet ones. If red meat tastes unpleasant, see if blander foods such as fish, chicken or turkey and eggs or dairy produce such as milk, cheese or yogurt, taste better. Pulses such as peas, beans and lentils can also be very useful.
- Soaking or marinating meat in fruit juice or wine before cooking may improve the flavour, as can having salty foods such as crisps, bacon, ham and crackers.
- If, however, you dislike the taste of savoury foods then try eating more sweet ones instead.
- Present food nicely so that you can still enjoy how it looks as well as how it smells. Concentrate on foods you enjoy even if they are different from your usual favourites, but don’t eat foods if you find they taste unpleasant.
- Sipping drinks through a straw can avoid some of the taste buds and may cut down unpleasant tastes.
- If you have a metallic taste in your mouth, try sucking on mints, chewing on sugar-free gum, eating salty food or using plastic knives and forks to help overcome it.
Radiotherapy near your mouth or throat and some types of chemotherapy can make your throat sore, so that it is hard to swallow.
With some types of illness or treatment you may experience a sore mouth or swallowing problems. This can be due to pain, inflammation, oral thrush or due to the position of the tumour, e.g. oesophageal cancer. In this case you may find that foods that are ‘easy to chew’ are more comfortable and manageable.
Sometimes the timing and co-ordination of the swallow may be affected. If you experience any of the following symptoms, then you may have a swallowing difficulty:
- coughing on swallowing diet or fluids
- difficulty breathing after eating/drinking
- wet or gurgly voice after eating/drinking
- pocketing food in mouth
- unexplained chest infections
You must inform a member of your medical team if you experience these, as you may require a referral to the speech and language therapists to assess the safety of your swallow. They will advise you on the safest texture of diet and fluids.
It is quite common to feel full even after small amounts of food and this can be very uncomfortable:
- graze on small frequent snacks and drinks rather than eating large meals
- take liquids between meals rather than just before, or whilst eating food, as they can fill you up
- be aware that rich or fatty foods can be more difficult to digest and can therefore leave you feeling full for longer
- you may find cold food and drinks, (e.g. yogurts, ice cream, fruit fool, and iced drinks) can be easier to manage
- try to relax when you are eating, eat slowly and chew foods well
- consider taking a little gentle exercise – such as a short walk after meals, as it can be helpful
- wind can make you feel very full and bloated. Try avoiding things such as fizzy drinks, cabbage, cucumber, onions and pickles or any other items that you know makes symptoms worse. Sugar-free mints or chewing gum may cause wind
- some people find peppermint cordial, peppermint tea or mints helpful for clearing trapped wind
Nausea or sickness can be due to your disease, treatment or medication. If you are experiencing this, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse. They may be able to prescribe anti-sickness medication to help.
Additionally, if you are feeling sick:
- try salty foods such as crisps, crackers or savoury biscuits; dry foods such as toast, plain cake, plain biscuits (Rich Tea, gingernut, arrowroot etc.) or bland foods such as chicken and eggs
- avoid foods if they make you feel worse. Examples may include greasy or fried foods, spicy foods or foods with a strong smell
- eat and drink slowly
- avoid the smell of food or cooking – cold foods usually smell less than cooked ones
- drinks sipped through a straw often taste better
- try sucking mints or boiled sweets
- asking someone else to prepare food for you may also help
- sometimes ginger – taken as ginger ale, gingernut biscuits, crystallised ginger or lemon and ginger fruit tea – can be soothing and helpful
- try a little light exercise or fresh air before eating
- sit up to eat and don’t lie down immediately afterwards
- avoid going long periods without food. You may find that nibbling frequently on snacks or light meals helps keep the sickness under control
If you are being sick:
- Let your doctor or specialist nurse know as they may be able to prescribe some medication to help.
- It is important that you keep drinking plenty of fluids. Try cold, clear fluids such as squash or fruit juice, and aim for a minimum of 10 to 12 drinks each day to ensure you are replacing any fluids that are being lost.
- You may find it easier to sip drinks through a straw.
- Slightly fizzy drinks may also be helpful.
- As the sickness settles, start to include nourishing milky drinks.
- Gradually move on to light meals and snacks.
Diarrhoea can be due to your treatment, medication, illness or infection. If you are experiencing this, please discuss it with your doctor or specialist nurse to identify the cause and to see if you require any medication.
It is important to drink plenty of fluids to replace any lost fluids and to avoid becoming dehydrated. Check for signs of dehydration (passing less urine, or small amounts of dark urine). If this persists, please speak to your doctor. As a guide, aim for a minimum of 10 to 12 drinks (2 litres) per day.
Fluids can be:
- coffee, tea, herbal tea, fruit tea
- squash, cordial, diluted fruit juice
- Bovril, clear soups, Oxo
- milk, milky drinks, milkshakes. Some people may find that milk makes their diarrhoea worse due to the lactose content. You can choose lactose-free milk or milk alternatives (soya, rice, nut milks) instead
- Try to eat little and often.
- Chew your food slowly.
- Some foods may make it worse – caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, greasy or fried foods, nuts and seeds.
There is little evidence for reducing the fibre content in your diet. Try to continue eating your normal diet.
Constipation may be as a result of disease, treatment or medications. Some painkillers can be especially constipating.
At this time, drink plenty of fluids – aiming for at least 10 to 12 glasses or mugs daily. Try taking some gentle exercise such as walking.
For some people it is advisable to increase the fibre content of their diet, for others they may need to decrease it, if it is not diet related. Please speak with your doctor for advice on what is appropriate for you and if you require laxatives.
If you have been advised to follow a low-fibre diet, then refer to The Christie booklet ‘Eating well when following a low fibre diet’ for advice on what to eat.